Mary Evelyn Tucker partners with cosmologist Brian Swimme on Journey of the Universe

By Frank Brown
Assistant Director, Publications

Yale Divinity School Senior Lecturer Mary Evelyn Tucker is partnering with cosmologist Brian Swimme on an ambitious multi-media project that aims to convey the nature of our physical world by tapping the perspectives of a multitude of disciplines, from astronomy to theology and religious history.

The central component of the project is a film entitled Journey of the Universe, set for release next year. Already there is a well-developed website that gives visitors a taste of the film project’s breadth, including a video preview. A companion book is set to be published in 2011 by Yale University Press. An educational series will give the project further resonance in high schools, colleges and divinity schools, according to Tucker.

The film is slated for its first public showing on March 25 at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. In June, PBS affiliate KQED in San Francisco is planning to give Journey of the Universe a broad debut in the United States’ sixth largest television market. Ultimately, Tucker said, the film is aimed for use “in a variety of settings including schools and colleges, churches and synagogues, community centers and conferences.”

Using a bottom-up approach to bringing about change and altering attitudes that lead to environmental destruction, the film and book could bring about a transformation of consciousness, values, and action, Tucker believes.

“With the collective efforts of many people, including the voices of many Christian communities, we would hope to begin to reverse the exploitative worldview that dispenses with ecosystems and people in wanton ways,” Tucker observed.  “New forms of eco-justice need to arise within the Christian churches to respond to this crisis that holds hostage the future of life itself.”

The idea for Journey of the Universe was born about 25 years ago when Tucker and Swimme were both working with Thomas Berry, the late historian of world religions and leading environmental thinker. “Berry had a vision of the need for an integrating narrative of the development of the universe, Earth, and humans,” said Tucker, the film’s executive producer.  “He wrote an essay in 1978 called ‘The New Story’ out of which this project arose.”

She continued, “It has been without doubt the largest and most complex project I have ever undertaken. Film making is enormously time consuming—from writing the script, to finding the director and production staff, to filming, editing, and finding the right images and music.”

Tucker, who also holds appointments at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Department of Religious Studies, is nationally prominent through her work on religion and the environment. Her presence at Yale, along with her husband John Grim, has helped bolster the joint degree program offered by YDS and FES. Tucker and Grim are co-directors of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology that sponsors conferences and publications in the field. She played a leading role in organizing the Renewing Hope: Pathways of Religious Environmentalism conference that spanned four days in early 2008 and drew 300 participants to the Divinity School. 

Swimme, a professor of cosmology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, is the film’s dominant on-screen presence. “What Mary Evelyn and I are hoping to convey is our sense that with the story of the unfolding universe and Earth, humanity is discovering what might be called a context of contexts, said Swimme.

“Whether we are Christian or Taoist, whether we are Democrat or Republican, whether we are socialist or free market capitalist, we all arise out of a process of complexification that began with a single cell,” observed Swimme, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Oregon and is a veteran of four previous film projects. “With our book and film, we are celebrating unity, the unity of the human species, and the unity that holds humans and Earth together.”